Lenin for today: on liberty, bourgeois democracy and colonialism

I have come across a magnificent piece by Domenico Losurdo, called ‘Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy’. Here Losurdo deploys Lenin’s critique of colonialism and Western’ democracy’ to devastating effect. Let me pick out some of the more salient points.

To begin with, in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, we find that ‘despotism is a legitimate mode of dealing with barbarians’, for liberty is only for ‘those in the maturity of their faculties’. As for the rest, they are little superior to the animals. (This is precisely the sentiment of Aristotle in relation to ethics and democracy.) In other words, liberal ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are inseparable from oppression and dispossession; one relies on the other to function.

Losurdo moves on to consider a paradox in the heart of today’s beacon of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty’: liberal democracy developed in the white community in direct relation to the enslaving of blacks and deportation of indigenous peoples. ‘For thirty-two of the first thirty-six years of the United States’ life, slave-owners held the presidency, and they were the ones who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution’. Indeed, one cannot understand ‘American liberty’ without slavery and dispossession, for they grew together, one sustaining the other. As a further example, during the so-called ‘Progressive Age’, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, numerous ‘democratic’ reforms took place: direct election to the Senate, secret vote, primaries, referenda etc. They all took place during a rise in ferocity of the Ku Klux Klan terrorist squads and a push to deprive indigenous people of their residual lands and assimilate them. So also with the treatment of ‘rogues’ or ‘pariahs’ outside the USA (‘rogue’ was originally a term used for slaves, and when one had white semi-slaves, they were branded with an ‘R’ to signify their status): once declared a ‘rogue’ or ‘pariah’ state, the ‘world’s oldest democracy’ (Clinton) and ‘model for the world’ (Bush) can crush these ‘barbarians’ (Mill) in order to bolster ‘freedom and democracy’.

One might also compare Israel, suggests Losurdo, supposedly the only ‘true democracy’ in the Middle East, where ‘freedom of expression and association’ exist. But that can be maintained only by ignoring a macroscopic detail: ‘government by law and democratic guarantees are valid only for the master race, while Palestinians can have their lands expropriated, be arrested and imprisoned without process, tortured, killed, and, in any case under a regime of military occupation, have their human dignity downtrodden and humiliated daily’.

And then in a new twist, when fading colonial powers are losing their grip, they suddenly happen upon self-determination for valuable sections of the former colony (which have themselves been ethnically, culturally and religiously engineered). Thus, when England finally had to give Hong Kong back to China, the last governer, Chris Patten, ‘had a species of illumination and improvised conversion: he appealed to the inhabitants of Hong Kong to claim their right to “self-determination” against the motherland, thereby remaining within the orbit of the British Empire’. One might say the same about claims for Tibet’s independence.

Finally, to what do the oft-repeated and much-vaunted claims for ‘human rights’, ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ amount? Losurdo deploys Cecil Rhodes’s formula for the British Empire, which is still perfectly valid today: ‘philanthropy + 5 per cent’, where ‘philanthropy’ is synomous with ‘human rights’ and 5 per cent the profits to be made by waving the flag of ‘human rights’.

Many of these details are reasonably well-known, but the argument is usually one of hypocrisy: they don’t live up to their ideals. But Losurdo, developing Lenin, has a much sharper point. The very possibility of bourgeois ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ is directly dependent upon, and thereby unthinkable and unworkable without, systemic dispossession of the majority – and vice versa.


Biblical plums, or Jacob’s block and tackle

For the sake of good religious decency, biblical scholars are all too keen to hide biblical balls from public view, slipping on a pair of briefs if not a full cloak as soon as possible. One such case concerns the knackers of yet another patriarch: Genesis 32, which should really be called the story of Jacob’s nuts. At this moment, Jacob is about to return to Canaan to meet his brother, Esau. Both are resplendent in clans, cattle and armed men, but Jacob is left alone at the ford of the Jabbok where he wrestles all night, desperately and alone, with ‘man’ who turns out to be God – that is, his demons, his past, his fears for the future, his estranged brother. Unable to prevail, the ‘man’ touches Jacob on kaf-yerekh (Gen 32:26, 33 [ET 25, 32]. Now, this is usually rendered as the ‘hollow of the thigh’ or the ‘socket of the hip joint’. But the more basic sense of kaf is hand, which is a common euphemism for penis, and yarekh means balls, so I would suggest that kaf-yerekh simply designates Jacob’s block and tackle. Picture the scene for a moment: some thug accosts Jacob at the ford but can’t prevail over him, so in the tradition of street-fighting he knees him in the nuts. Despite the excruciating pain, in which Jacob’s itchy and scratchy (kaf-yerekh Ya’aqov – verse 26/25) are turned inside out (teqa’), he hangs on for a blessing. Once granted, Jacob limps from the scene because of his throbbingly painful yarekh (verse 31/32). At this point the Hebrew text is a little too hasty in seeking an etymological explanation for what went on, suggesting that this story explains why Israelites do not eat the schlong and stones (verse 33/32) of an animal. But the true etymology of the story shows up a little earlier, for in the blessing, Jacob has his name changed to Israel, meaning ‘God struggles’ or ‘the one who struggles with God’. For most men a solid knee in the nuts makes one feel as though you have met your maker. Make that a blow to the plums by a divine thug and it certainly does feel like one has seen the face of God (Peni’el – verse 31/30).

The Mossad Stuffup, or how spies should be punished (2 Samuel 10:4)

The Mossad is not really living up to its full title these days: The Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (המוסד למודיעין ולתפקידים מיוחדים). They might have been on a special operation in Dubai to take out Mahmoud al-Mabhouh but there was little intelligence shown, since it was all captured beautifully on closed circuit television. Plenty of coverage at Vulgar Marxism and the mainstream press (not that VM is that mainstream).

However, I would like to suggest another approach to secret agents who stuff up. In 2 Samuel 10, King David (he of legendary fame) sends a few men under false passports to Hanun, king of the Ammonites, ostensibly to comfort him upon the death of his father. But Hanun and his buddies ain’t stupid: they realise the men are spies, out to survey the city so it can be attacked. What does Hanun do to the spies?

So Hanun seized David’s servants, shaved off half the beard of each, cut off their garments in the middle at level of their buttocks, and sent them away (2 Samuel 10:4).

You know, instead of slapping Israel with a wet diplomatic lettuce leaf over the affair, Australia, the UK and Canada – whose citizens have had their passports stolen by Mossad – should not only insist that Mossad spies be done over in this fashion, but they should also do this to the Israeli ambassadors in each country.

Quote of the day: Benajmin Netanyahu (again)

I was not aware that states in the Middle East actually move about, setting off east, west and wherever. But that man with the tarnished tongue, Netanyahu, has proved me wrong.

Turkey’s move eastwards, that is what should truly make Israel worried. There are three strong non-Arab countries in the Middle East. Israel is always rooted in the West. Iran was once in the West and is now leading radical and dictatorial Islam. And the third country is Turkey, which used to look towards the West, and in the past two years has increasingly been looking east, towards Iran.

Quote of the day: Benjamin Netanyahu

‘Tis the season for building fences:

In the end, there will be no choice but to close off the state of Israel by a fence on all sides… The state has to be fenced off completely on all sides. Why? Because Israel is the only country in the First World to which people can walk on foot from Third World countries and Africa.

Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israel-Egypt fence.

Now, it seems, that not only is Bethlehem off limits, but so is the flight to Egypt.